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Design to fight crime

Design to fight crime

If good design can be described as maximising function with form, then the pioneering work taking place at the Design Against Crime Solution Centre is having a major impact on some of society’s biggest blights.

Design Against Crime was established at the University of Salford in 1999 via a project funded by the UK Design Council and the Home office, as part of a national programme of policy initiatives to embed crime prevention in design practice and education.

Design Against Crime Solution Centre - University of SalfordIn 2003, the Design Against Crime Solution Centre was established, which is a unique partnership with Greater Manchester Police and the Dutch research and planning consultancy, DSP-groep. The Solution Centre provides leadership in design-led and sustainable practice to improve crime prevention and community safety, and works in partnership with police forces, governments, planning authorities, the voluntary sector, service users and communities.

“The research cluster here at the Design Against Crime Solution Centre offers a distinctive approach, and considers ‘design’ as referring not simply to the physical design of environments or products, but includes research, analysis, evaluation and the formulation of integrated systems of delivery and value adopted by stakeholders,” explains Dr Caroline Davey, Co-Director of the Centre.

“Our approach is very much informed by human-centred design and systems design, and we adopt a focus on the constituent systems of meaning, learning, delivery [practice] and value [impact]. The impact of our work is underpinned by research that has taken place in a number of key projects.”

The youth of today have lots to say

One of these projects is Youth Design Against Crime (YDAC), a programme to engage young people in design-led crime prevention, developed by the Design Against Crime Solution Centre and national young people’s charity, Catch22. Supported by youth workers and teachers, and mentored by local police officers, the project sees multiple teams of up to nine young people challenged to address issues of crime and community safety in their neighbourhoods, and the ideas generated are presented to senior local stakeholders from agencies including the police, planning authorities and local councils. YDAC is novel in its approach because it is aimed at young people who have come to the attention of schools or police authorities due to behavioural problems, and who may be excluded from school and following an alternative curriculum.

“People are starting to realise the value in encouraging young people to participate in projects that have a direct impact on decisions about environments and spaces, including the public realm of towns and cities,” says Andrew Wootton, also Co-Director of the Solution Centre. “YDAC challenges young people considered ‘at risk of offending’ to address problems in their neighbourhoods, using a process of research and design to help generate innovative and evidence-based solutions to crime problems.

Using these design challenges really improves young people’s confidence, knowledge, qualifications and skills, and fosters better relationships with the adult participants, including police mentors. The young people we work with develop creative solutions to problems, and are able to convince stakeholders involved in policing, community safety and urban planning of the value of their ideas.”

With YDAC structured to run over ten to 12 weeks, young people completing the programme and associated workbook have the opportunity to gain an ASDAN Wider Skills Level 2 problem-solving qualification, which in turn can be a springboard to further study.

During the first three weeks of the programme the participants undertake team-building activities, including identifying individual strengths and weaknesses, creating a team name and choosing an area to focus on.

The scanning and mapping stage (weeks four to six) involves researching the focus area, considering why it is important to the team members, looking deeper into the issues and understanding how they can be addressed. A police mentor assists this process and works with the teams to research problems in the area, as experienced by other users, and then a ‘problem profile’ is produced.

During weeks six to ten the groups develop design concepts in response to their research, which are then evaluated in terms of their potential impact on users, crime and anti-  social behaviour. A final design concept is then selected and in weeks ten to 12 the young people develop drawings, models, presentation materials and arguments to communicate to the judging panel at the YDAC showcase evening.

At this event each group is given ten minutes to present their finished design to the judging panel and an audience of friends, family and invited stakeholders, before taking questions for five minutes. One group is then selected by the judging panel as the YDAC winner, and receives a trophy, while all runners up are awarded medals and certificates of completion.

Five YDAC projects have been initiated to date: Greater Manchester (2009), the London borough of Southwark (2010), the London borough of Lambeth (2011), Salford (2011) and Bolton (2012). Together, these projects have directly involved over 200 young people aged between 12 and 19 years from schools and youth groups, with the majority generally coming from poor educational backgrounds, and some having been excluded from school or involved in anti-social behaviour and identified as ‘at risk of offending’.

Andrew Wootton, Director Design Against Crime Solution Centre - University of Salford“Designers and other stakeholders are aware of the power of creativity, but much of the creativity possessed by young people often goes untapped,” adds Wootton. “Design doesn’t necessarily mean art though, but rather is focused on the intelligent use of creative thinking to solve problems and meet identified needs in an elegant way, which means that really understanding problems and needs is key to developing successful new designs.

It is for this reason that we believe that the research process is central to the success of YDAC and its creative challenge nature in general is vital. The young people taking part develop a strong team spirit, improve their communication skills, demonstrate their ability to help each other and take responsibility for the decision-making process. On top of that, because the process requires the participants to consult with and understand the behaviour of all the users of an area, both legitimate users and offenders, it helps to forge community cohesion and build bridges between these various groups.”

As an example of the project proving a catalyst to address crucial issues that affect all community members, the four teams of young people participating in the Greater Manchester YDAC identified four main problem areas on which to focus their efforts. The first of these was an isolated subway close to the team’s school that had become a magnet for robbery, anti-social behaviour and serious crime; the second was a pedestrian route to a local shopping precinct where groups of street drinkers congregated and created a climate of fear; the third was an underused public park and playground; while the fourth was the playing field next to the team’s youth centre, which had become a hotspot for drug dealing.

At the showcase evening, Kevin Mulligan, Chief Superintendent of Salford, pledged to secure funding for the implementation of the winning team’s ideas, which was to deal with the isolated subway close to Albion High School. As a result, the team was invited to act as young advisers to Urban Vision Engineering Design, who met with the group to discuss their ideas to improve the Pendleton Roundabout subway. Staff at Urban Vision were stunned with the creativity of the ideas and very keen to incorporate these into the new design of the subway. Money was made available for making improvements to the subway and Urban Vision, appointed by the council, completed the renovations in summer 2010.

“The young people demonstrated a clear understanding of the issues relating to the improvement of the Pendleton subway,” Max Griffiths, Structures Manager at Urban Vision, said at the time of the design work.

“It is so important to give young people the chance to be involved in the decisions that affect their local community, especially as so often their voices are ignored,” Glen Barkworth, General Manager at Manchester Arndale and member of the Greater Manchester YDAC judging panel, said at the time of the project.

“We owe it to all of the groups who have been involved in this project to start making these really simple and relatively inexpensive changes happen right now. It may only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to eradicating crime in these areas, but changing a handful of young people’s futures for the better is most certainly worth the effort,” he added.

This sense that something special had been achieved, which would actually make a real difference, was echoed by Nicola Wood, a youth worker from North Manchester Youth Inclusion Project, who said: “The young people have developed and grown in their ability to work together as a team, learn about issues that affect their local community and grew in confidence throughout the project, especially through delivering the presentation."

The success of the YDAC programme has convinced those involved that further research is needed into developing the project to a wider audience. In partnership with Catch22 and partners in several EU states, staff at the Solution Centre are now exploring ways in which YDAC might be rolled out as a national programme in the UK, as well as considering pilots in other European contexts.

International impact

One of the main reasons why the successful YDAC programme is being considered in a European context is due to the impact other projects and research undertaken by the Solution Centre is having not only in the UK, but further afield in Europe and beyond.

One example is the Design Against Crime Evaluation Framework, which was created in 2005 to support the implementation and evaluation of crime prevention in design development. Providing designers, manufacturers and developers with detailed guidance on integrating crime prevention within the development cycle, it was validated against ten design development projects in the UK, Netherlands, Austria, Greece and Poland.

“This framework is transferable between different contexts and design disciplines, and covers the entire product lifecycle, including maintenance, monitoring and business learning when the development is in use. It enables researchers and crime prevention experts to conduct rigorous evaluations of design solutions within products, services and environment,” explains Wootton.

More recently the Centre has also been contributing to the development of a common European policy platform on urban security, leading to a policy position on the future of crime prevention, which was communicated via a manifesto arising from the European Forum for Urban Security (EFUS) conference in Paris – an event that was attended by delegates from more than 180 cities in 40 countries. EFUS is the oldest non-governmental organisation of local authorities working in the field of urban security and acts as a focus for research, dialogue and co-operation between its 300 local authority members. It has inspired numerous national forums throughout Europe, Africa and Latin America, and the Paris conference, held in December 2012, was entitled Security, Democracy and Cities: The Future of Prevention.

Dr Caroline Davey, Director of Design Against Crime Solution Centre - University of SalfordCaroline Davey was invited to speak at the ‘Planning shared public space’ session and presented scientific evidence on the links between design and security, highlighting reductions in crime across Europe attributed to effective design intervention. “I recommended that crime prevention be considered within the early stages of the design process to increase the cost-effectiveness of solutions and avoid the retrofitting of unsightly security measures,” she explains.

“I described approaches from across Europe that enable crime and related social issues to be integrated within urban planning, design and development, and drew on findings from the Centre’s recently completed EU Planning Urban Security (PLuS) project, which was led by the German Federal police.”

On the PLuS side

Over the past decade, the Solution Centre has developed a network of partners across Europe that includes DSP-groep, the European Designing Out Crime Organisation (Netherlands) and the University of Applied Sciences, Cologne.

The PLuS project provided an opportunity to continue working with existing partners in Austria and Germany, as well as to establish new police crime prevention contacts in Poland. Through these European partners, the Solution Centre has been able to examine the effect of contextual factors on crime prevention measures, and a strong presence in Germany has been developed through participation in conferences and seminars on design and crime prevention.

The PLuS project conducted empirical research into the urban context in partner countries, with a quantitative survey of the residents in each PLuS study area carried out, followed by qualitative interviews with residents’ groups and other stakeholders. The results revealed significant differences between residents in each of the three European countries in terms of demographic details, lifestyles and attitudes. In 2007, the Solution Centre evaluated Greater Manchester Police’s Architectural Liaison Service, which resulted in the re-branding of the service as Design for Security, and the embedding of crime prevention within urban design and planning in Manchester.

This project resulted in the service being awarded the 2010 Secured By Design Innovation Award, as well as journal publications, guidance materials and process models that have been disseminated across Europe.

“Through the PLuS project, we have been able to track the ongoing development of the Design for Security service and identify aspects of their working process – what has become called the ‘Manchester Model’ – that may act as examples of good practice for other European countries. In parallel, research conducted by PLuS partners has revealed alternative approaches and examples of good practice from which organisations in the UK might learn. This has also enabled us to reflect on the underpinning ideas, assumptions and paradigms that inform the UK approach to crime prevention,” Andrew Wootton said.

In a previous European project, the Solution Centre developed a method to promote the exchange of best practice across Europe, and the PLuS project has allowed Salford researchers to progress this work and develop the ‘Planning Urban Security Capability Maturity Model’. This model is tailored to the European approach to crime prevention, and is now helping to guide efforts to improve crime prevention delivery in Germany. Development of the model has benefited greatly from the feedback of European partners who are also practitioners in the field and, together, the PLuS project team has been able to develop a model that functions across different European contexts and languages.

Impact into the future

Due to the impact that the Solution Centre has had so far, both at home and abroad, it is little surprise that their innovative work is leading to new opportunities all the time. Several exciting new initiatives are either underway or planned, which means that the future promises to be both busy and varied.

Much current activity also relates to addressing emerging national and European policy imperatives of civil security and community resilience.

“I have been nominated as the UK representative on the Management Committee of the European Commission COST Action TU1203 Crime Prevention Through Urban Design and Planning, while Dr Davey will be a representative on one of the working groups,” says Wootton. “COST is an inter-governmental framework for European Co-operation in Science and Technology, which allows the co-ordination of nationally funded research at a European level, and so to represent the UK is a real privilege and a very exciting opportunity. We are actually holding the first meeting of COST here in Salford at MediaCityUK in May 2013, and the action leaders specifically chose this venue because they wanted experts from across Europe to learn from the best practice that has already been developed and taken place in Greater Manchester. In collaboration with this group of experts, here at the Solution Centre we will support the implementation of best practice in design-led urban crime prevention and community safety throughout Europe.”

Much current activity also relates to addressing emerging national and European policy imperatives of civil security and community resilience, and a priority for the immediate future is to grow doctoral research in the area of design-led approaches to crime prevention, security and resilience.

“This is an area we’re really keen to develop,” says Dr Davey. “While we are justifiably proud of all that has been achieved so far at the Solution Centre, as well as the ongoing work we are undertaking, we know that there is still so much more that can be done. Every impact we make at the centre is underpinned by the research that has taken place, and so we need to encourage new and innovative activity in order to continue to influence improvements and enhance the capacity to deliver crime prevention and community safety in the UK and Europe.”

To find out more about the Design Against Crime Solution Centre, please contact: